Lending Some Common Sense To 9-7

mishandles the kickoff at the two, and only gets out to the 15. Trouble already. Choice gains two, and on second-and-eight from the 17, all goes wrong. Romo tries to hit Jason Witten on a little curl pattern. Witten stumbles out of his break. The ball is a little high anyway and sails right to Steelers corner Deshea Townsend, who did nothing but stand there. Touchdown going the other way. Ball game. Chemistry or bad step and bad decision?

Open the locker room flood gates. Well, I was open. And I was open. And I was open. But in two seconds time, with Romo getting pressure, he had time to decide, look, I don't like those guys who are open, so I'm throwing to my buddy Jason. Come oooon.

As crushing a defeat as I've seen in my days around here.

But a season with a heap full of oddities wasn't over just yet, even though the Cowboys were now being counted out at 8-5. Why, this team without any chemistry, with all the bickering and secret meetings taking place, bops the 11-2 Giants right on their heads, 20-8.

All the Cowboys had to do was win one of the last two and they were in. They just didn't, losing in succession to one of the two teams in each of Sunday's conference title games.

Weird thing is, they refused to fold in Game 15, even after trailing the Ravens in the final game at Texas Stadium, 16-7, with 2:51 left in the third quarter and 19-10 as late as 6:30 remaining in the game.

Yep, here came the gutless bunch again, Romo hitting Owens with a seven-yard pass for 19-17 at the 3:50 mark. And get this, the Ravens, who are going on to play in the AFC title game against Pittsburgh, fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but of all people, Darren Stone, a guy the Cowboys had for one week, recovered the ball for them at the 23. And with all that inner hydrochloric acid bubbling away and with T.O. causing all these problems, Baltimore's Willis McGahee, who to that point in the game had rushed six times for 23 yards, takes what was designed to be a clock-consuming handoff over right tackle and . . . .

Goes 77 yards for a touchdown. Kidding me?

Chemistry? T.O.? Romo? Garrett's bonehead play-calling?

No, a run-blitz and Ken Hamlin whiffing on the tackle for what should have been a five-yard gain. Am I right?

Still, the no-heart, no-guts Cowboys come right back, go 71 yards in 11 plays to once again narrow Baltimore's lead to two, 26-24. Still 1:36 to play and the Cowboys have three timeouts remaining, so Wade Phillips elects to kick deep and the questionable Cowboys cover unit pins the Ravens down at the 18, of all places.

Again, the Ravens are hanging on for dear life. All they want to do is run the ball three times, drain those three timeouts from the Cowboys and who cares if that leads to a punt. So this time, on the first play, rumbling fullback turned tailback Le'Ron McClain, he of 21 carries for all of 57 yards so far, takes an innocent handoff off the same right tackle and . . . .

Goes 82 yards for a touchdown. Joking me?

And that's chemistry? T.O.? Romo? Garrett's bonehead play-calling?

No, another run-blitz and Ken Hamlin whiffing on the tackle for what should have been a five-yard gain.

Ball game. Season.

Did any of you have any doubt in your mind had the Cowboys stopped the Ravens on either of those two one-play drives they wouldn't have kicked the game-winning field goal at the end? Tell the truth now.

See, win any one of those three games and the Cowboys are in the playoffs. And as we've clearly seen this year, get in and who knows, even sixth seeds can advance to the conference title games. See Eagles and Ravens, who by the way owe the Cowboys a debt of gratitude if they happen to advance to the Super Bowl. Because without the oddest of all the odd plays filling this season, the Ravens likely would have come up a win short of qualifying as the AFC's sixth seed.

So as we sit here having to watch on Sunday the Eagles go to Arizona and the Ravens go to Pittsburgh for the conference title games, while remembering the slim and odd differences between 9-7 and 12-4, ask

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